Several of Team France’s mates for Frank Ntilikina have been extraordinarily complimentary of the young Knicks guard’s World Cup performance.
Many believe the FIBA World Cup is Frank Ntilikina’s last chance to impress New York Knicks management. The 21-year-old is entering his third season in the league without a solidified role on the team. He has the opportunity to impress the front office and earn some momentum going into training camp by playing well for Team France.
Through two games, Ntilikina has taken advantage of that opportunity, averaging of 10.0 points, 2.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game, helping France win both matches during the group stage. His shooting splits of 50.0% from the field and 66.7% from deep are extremely promising, as Ntilikina’s inefficiency as a scorer in the NBA is one of, if not the biggest reasons why his role in New York is uncertain.
Ntilikina’s strong play has earned him praise from several teammates. Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets was very complimentary of his play against Germany, saying:
“Against Germany he had a big task with Andrew [Albicy] of guarding [Oklahoma City point guard] Dennis Schroder and he did a great job on him. And (against Jordan) he controlled the rhythm for us. He’s been great for us. He had two big shots to start the game and put pressure on defense, ran the team, shared the ball. That’s what we asked of him and he did good.”
After flaunting his defensive abilities against Germany, Ntlikina stuffed the stat sheet in a dominant win against the state of Jordan. He recorded 12 points, five assists, five rebounds, three steals, and a block while shooting 3-for-5 from the field, 2-of-4 from 3, and 4-for-4 from the free throw line in 21 minutes. His plus-minus of +31 was the team’s highest, too.
Other members of “Les Bleus” have praised Ntilikina during the trip to China. Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic commended Ntilikina for his strong defense, noting that “his mix of size and athleticism is really above average.” Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, the recipient of the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards, said that Ntilikina is a “very, very talented player” and that he sees “a bright future ahead for him.”
France’s head coach, Vincent Collet, also applauded Ntilikina, saying, “It’s important for us that he can be a real threat” and that he liked seeing Frank’s confidence and aggressiveness against Jordan. Many believe Ntilikina is the future of the French national team, and that belief grows as he continues to impress.
Ntilikina also received praise from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who voiced his belief in the Frenchman. He declared on The Ringer’s NBA Show podcast (around the 44:45 mark) that he “is still on ‘Frank Ntilikina island'” and that he thinks “the people who gave up on him are gonna look silly someday.” O’Connor praised Ntilikina for having “tighter handles” in the World Cup so far, which has been a weakness in his game.
While the two-game sample is promising, it’s up to Ntilikina to continue that level of play throughout the tournament. It’s important for both France as they seek their first-ever FIBA gold medal, and Ntilikina as he seeks to get his NBA career going somewhere.
The future of both the Knicks and Ntilikina could be impacted by how well the French Prince plays in the rest of the tournament. The Knicks have to decide by Halloween if they want to pick up his player option for the 2020–21 season, which is worth $6.2 million. New York might not want to pay that much to a player for whom they have little use.
If Ntilikina continues to play well and rides that momentum into training camp, the Knicks may have to re-evaluate Nitlikina’s place in the Big Apple.